Almost There: My New Love of Summer Vacation

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Counting down to the end of school.
Counting down to the end of school.

The last week of school has arrived.  Words can not begin to express just how happy I will be when these next 3.5 days are over.  Joyful! Jolly! Gleeful! None of these adjectives seems adequate to describe the level of delight I will experience on the last day of school. See that mom skipping all the way down the street?  That’s me, positively elated.

Goodbye school lunches, 9 week assessments and fast fact tests!  No more rushing to wash the right color shirt for the next core essential day – pink for peace, green for generosity, white for honesty, blue for …whatever.  No more of my kids shaming me for not having lunch with them because so and so’s mom has lunch with them at least twice a week. No more field trips, book fairs and field days. I am over it and I don’t care anymore.  I’m fresh out of care.

And if eating lunch means me making it, my kids just may miss lunch for the next 12 weeks of summer vacation because I have come to loathe making lunches.  I can’t explain it, but the thought of it just makes me just down right grouchy.

I wasn’t like this when my older kids were in school.  In fact, it was completely the opposite.  I hated summers and I know exactly why.  Exactly 3.3 seconds after school let out for vacation they uttered their first “I’m bored” and it was down hill from there. It was always a mad scramble to find something for them to do with their time.  You know what they say, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground” and I was convinced that satan himself was just sitting around waiting for my kids to get out of school for the summer.  I would try to fill their days with sports and academic camps and as they got older they each got summer jobs.  It helped, but if you have ever lived with teenagers then you know that they are, well…challenging. Yes, challenging – that’s a polite word for it.

Back then my favorite time of year was back to school. I loved shopping for their school supplies and I fantasized about the house being empty and quiet during the day.  I yearned for the low rumble of the school bus at 6:45 every morning.  When my kids were in school, I was in my happy place.

Not anymore.

You want to hear what I have planned for the first day summer break? Nothing! Sleeping late, Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast (because nothing says summer vacation like Nutella), maybe a trip to the pool, lunch that I don’t have to make, then top it all off with a movie in Daddy’s man cave.  Don’t worry, he knows it’s only a man cave in his imagination.  The best part is that none of this is written in stone. We can do whatever we want, even stay in our pajamas all day and alternate between eating a bowl of fruit and marshmallow fluff directly out of the jar.  And drinking my coffee, of course. There’s always coffee.

Things are different now and summer vacation is EVERYTHING while back to school gives me a severe case of the blues.  Recently, I’ve tried to figure out why my feelings toward school have changed in the 14 years between my first and second set of children.

For one thing, school is different.  The level of involvement by the parent in day-to-day school activities and lessons has increased drastically. Basically, I feel like I’m the student in 1st and 3rd grade all over again. Except this time it’s harder and I really don’t know if I am smarter than a 3rd grader. Teachers are so overwhelmed by curriculum changes and standardized testing benchmarks that students are in need of parents to help fill in the blanks.  The kids are on over load and so are the parents.

Then there’s the pressure that parents put on themselves trying to compete with one another. Who’s kid earns the best grades?  Which one is the best football player, soccer player, baseball player, gymnast or swimmer?  Which mom can bring the absolute craftiest craft? Or which DIY Halloween costume is deemed the cutest and most clever, thereby making the mom winner of the Martha Stewart award?  This is an area that I try very hard to stay away from because I already know that it’s a dead-end.  Notice I said try to stay away from? We all can be susceptible to pouring on even a little bit of hate now and then.  The truth is that there is always going to be someone who kicks it up a notch; whose faster with a glue gun and whose kid seems to be born a mermaid and, at age 8, can out swim Michael Phelps.  While I find it all somewhat amusing, it’s way too much pressure.

Finally (and probably my biggest reason for my new appreciation of summer vacation),  I now know how this whole raising kids thing goes and how fast it’s over. I swear to you that it felt like 2 days after she started middle school, my oldest daughter graduated from high school.  When she walked into the field house with 900 or so of her classmates – identifiable only by the glimpse of her yellow dress under her gown, I dissolved into an ugly cry that continued trough the entire ceremony.  The irony here is that my husband didn’t get a chance to be emotional at all – she is his daughter and my step daughter – because he was too busy helping me sop up my very wet face.  We went through this 2 more times with our boys and I didn’t make it through either one without crying.  I know that it sounds cliché, but it all goes by in the blink of an eye.

It’s all accentuated by the passing of every school year.  Nine intense months of assignments, tests (both social and academic), school dances, science and art projects, band performances, football games, basketball games, sleepovers…sigh.  Then it’s over and you have 3 months to recover and prepare yourself for what comes the next year.  Except, you also notice the subtle, and not so subtle, differences in your child.  He or she is growing and maturing in ways that you didn’t see until one day it just takes your breath away.

Now, what I know is that in the absence of all the distractions that the school year provides, summer is the time to really cherish and pull my kids closer.  Snuggle just a little more.  Share stories, watch movies, catch fireflies, do nothing – but make sure that we’re doing nothing together. Summer is when you can reflect on the past while anticipating what’s ahead.  It’s a time to appreciate the transition.

Tomorrow I am going to Thing 1’s third grade year-end celebration.  First grade’s was last week for Thing 2.  They sing, get awards and basically hug their friends and take lots and lots of pictures of themselves and each other.  You know, in case they forget what the other looks like during the break.

After that, summer is just 2 sleeps away.

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